Palm Sunday, Passion Sunday, Prayers for Pastors

Sweet hosannas (a prayer for pastors)

Holy One,
bless your servants:

the new preacher facing palms and parades
and processions and passion,

and the just-back-from-youth-retreat
pastor rubbing sleep from her eyes,

and the artistic ones who
lined the aisle with cloaks,

and directors of congregational drama
handing scripts out at the door,

and small church pastors praying for
the voices to make sweet hosannas ring,

and the brave hearts herding children,
and even donkeys,

and the downhearted preacher
with troubles of her own,

and the displaced wishing dearly
for any pulpit in Holy Week,

and the far-commuting Interim
wondering if the palms even arrived.

Blessed is the one who comes
in the name of the Lord!”

Bless us today
as you blessed the world long ago.

Lent, Passion Sunday, Psalm 31:9-16


Oh, oh, oh, baby – don’t you know I’m human
I have thoughts like any other one
Sometimes I find myself, Lord, regretting
Some foolish thing, some little simple thing I’ve done
I’m just a soul whose intentions are good
Oh Lord, please don’t let me be misunderstood
~Bennie Benjamin, Gloria Caldwell and Sol Marcus (1964)
Maybe these words bring Nina Simone to mind, or the classic recording by The Animals, but as we enter Holy Week, they might also remind us of Jesus. He’s coming down to the end of his ministry, and he knows it. Why can’t these people understand him?
The Psalm for Passion Sunday brings us to a place like Jerusalem must have been for Jesus that week, full of people plotting against him. He wanted some sense that God was with him. He couldn’t have been more human than he was the day he carried his cross up the hill and died there. He was one of us.

Christ in Gethsemane, Michael O’Brien
 I hate all this silly religion, 
      but you, God, I trust. 
   I’m leaping and singing in the circle of your love; 
      you saw my pain, 
      you disarmed my tormentors, 
   You didn’t leave me in their clutches 
      but gave me room to breathe. 
   Be kind to me, God— 
      I’m in deep, deep trouble again. 
   I’ve cried my eyes out; 
      I feel hollow inside. 
   My life leaks away, groan by groan; 
      my years fade out in sighs. 
   My troubles have worn me out, 
      turned my bones to powder. 
   To my enemies I’m a monster; 
      I’m ridiculed by the neighbors. 
   My friends are horrified; 
      they cross the street to avoid me. 
   They want to blot me from memory, 
      forget me like a corpse in a grave, 
      discard me like a broken dish in the trash. 
   The street-talk gossip has me 
      “criminally insane”! 
   Behind locked doors they plot 
      how to ruin me for good. 
 Desperate, I throw myself on you: 
      you are my God! 
   Hour by hour I place my days in your hand, 
      safe from the hands out to get me. 
   Warm me, your servant, with a smile; 
      save me because you love me.
(Psalm 31:9-16, The Message)
This is from the last of six weekly booklets I’ve done inviting people to explore the Psalms as a devotional during Lent. In those I include three versions of the Psalm lection (NRSV, CEB and either KJV or The Message), a brief reflection and an image. Why I haven’t posted one here sooner is a mystery..
Passion Sunday

Face Like Flint

(Liturgy of the Passion A    Isaiah 50:4-9a)

The Lord GOD helps me; therefore I have not been disgraced; therefore I have set my face like flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame; he who vindicates me is near. Who will contend with me? Let us stand up together. Who are my adversaries? Let them confront me. (Isaiah 50:7-8)

This is the Hebrew Bible reading for the Liturgy of the Passion, and although I'm preaching the Palm Sunday lesson from the gospel, I think I'm going to use this reading in tandem with it, the shadow of the cross made by crossed palms in the air.

I'm thinking today about shame, how much more a part of the first century culture it was, and how we still try to employ it, but how magnificently we fail. The friends of Eliot Spitzer's prostitute are on the morning news talking about what a good person she is.

This gently-raised Southern girl wants to purse her lips together and say, "Mmm-hmm." And then I wonder why I have to know about this at all? Why is this so fascinating? Soon she will decide where to sell her story, and perhaps that will enable her to leave her line of work and do something else. Even her friends consider this to have been a "mistake," but is anyone actually ashamed by any of this?

For first century people, the road Jesus would walk to crucifixion was a Walk of Shame, but in the face of it, the prophet declares there will be no shame, but rather determination and courage, and in the Easter story, victory not only over death but over humanity's death-dealing.

Being lumped in with people we wouldn't want to know–are we ready for that?